It's tough not to remember a bully. Memories of pennies shoved in our lockers, sand shoved in our faces, and our faces shoved in a toilet in that wholesome maneuver known as a "swirly" are things that will stay with us forever.
But what we might not realize is that our bullies, too, might remember us. They might even feel bad about how they acted—bad enough to do something about it.
Such was the case for Marana's John Coppin, who recently received a letter of apology from a former tormentor. Coppin was bullied by a kid named Ed Christin back in 1969 when both were eighth-graders at St. John the Baptist School in Green Bay, Wis.
"I was shy back then, and (bullies) could use that as a weapon to torment me," recalls Coppin, who has come a long way since his shy days and now makes a living as a magician, clown and performer.
While Coppin did not get into the gory details about the bullying, he did say it was not physical in nature and promised that it did not involve a swirly. But mental anguish can be just as damaging.
"If you put the bullying into today's genre, he probably would have been a user of Internet bullying," Coppin explains. "Ed was more of a go-along-with-the-crowd type of bully. He just never let you have a peaceful time at recess—or ever."
Christin felt bad enough to write a heartfelt letter after his brother suggested it. He found Coppin through the Internet.
"At the time I knew you, I had very little in the way of a conscience," Christin wrote, "and my behavior toward you demonstrated that. I was unwilling to offer you support or friendship, something I deeply regret."
The letter continues to explain that he's found it futile to hold on to anger, and he has learned to forgive. He adds that the hardest person to forgive has definitely been himself.
"Wow, what a surprise," Coppin says of receiving the missive. "Yes, I forgave him. The past is past, and we learn to move forward."
The two guys are moving forward in a newfound friendship that has already included e-mail exchanges and a chat on the telephone.
"It was a great conversation," Coppin says. "I have learned that people can change and become the opposite of what you think. It was a real eye-opener."
Christin views contacting Coppin one of the high points in his life.
"He was picked on and teased by almost every boy in that class. It was the fact that I didn't have the courage to stand up for John that has haunted me, and I have a very stark image in my head of this boy struggling just to get through a day of school," he wrote in an e-mail.
"Writing the letter to John allowed me to release what had become a real burden for me to carry. ... Writing down in a letter my profound regret was emotional for me, and allowed me to own up to what I saw as my failure to act humanely."
Coppin agreed that the letter is a high point.
"This was the first time where an old bully did something like this (for me). I was never a bully, but over the many years, I am sure I have told people I was deeply sorry for past errors. I think we all have in some way."
Amends are not just a way to make up for the harm you've done to a victim, but also a way to purge your own soul. They help you realize that whatever hurtful, hateful or downright-stupid things you've done in the past do not need to hang over your head in the future.
They may also increase the odds of you not rotting in hell for all eternity.
"Those who bully may reach that point in life where they realize it was not a good thing what they did," Coppin says. "Do not harbor anger or reprisals against the bully, but just hope they will learn those lessons in life."
Even if former bullies don't come around with a poignant letter of apology after 42 years, there is still hope they shall learn their lessons from the grandest teacher of all.
Good ol' karma will surely get them if nothing else will.